In an election cycle for the history books, the United States last year witnessed the civic importance of voting in dramatic strokes. Students in William & Mary Law School’s Election Law Society recognized that, like medical students on the front lines of the pandemic, law students stood to play an important role iduring the global pandemic.
With guidance from Professor Rebecca Green, co-director of the school’s Election Law Program, Election Law Society leaders Max Weiss ‘22, Elizabeth DePatie ‘22 and Allen Coon ‘22 saw a unique challenge the 2020 election presented: as the COVID-19 pandemic put the elderly and immunocompromised at elevated health risks, who would volunteer to work at the polls in their place on November 3, 2020? The students saw urgency in recruiting a new generation of poll workers to step forward. Who better, they thought, than a national network of law students organizing within their local communities to ensure adequate numbers of young poll workers heeded the call.
The question hit home particularly for Weiss, whose grandmother worked for two decades as a poll worker but would be unable to fulfill that role in 2020 due to the pandemic. “It dawned on us that we were in a position to take nonpartisan action through our status as law students at William & Mary,” said Weiss. That’s when he and the other co-founders got together on Zoom to figure out a plan of action.
The summer before the 2020 election, Weiss, DePatie and Coon co-founded the Alliance of Students at the Polls (ASAP) to organize law students around the country to recruit a new generation of poll workers.
“At the end of the day, we realized that we could do something to make poll-working more accessible for people our age,” Coon explained.
ASAP sought to create a national database of law students who could liaison with local election officials and help recruit poll workers needed to safely conduct the November 2020 election. The students spent much of fall 2020 building digital tools and engaging with law students around the country via email, video meetings and other digital means like group-messaging platforms.
In all, ASAP made connections at over 50 law schools, for which the leaders compiled information and resources to help law students motivate and recruit student poll workers and serve as sources of accurate information about the election process and the nuts and bolts of working at the polls.
Overcoming logistical obstacles wrought by the pandemic, ASAP held webinars to help students at other law schools understand the urgency of recruiting younger poll workers and provided information and recommendations for doing so. “We felt compelled to help out in the best way we knew how: to create a network of law students informed and ready to connect local election officials with younger poll workers,” DePatie explained.
The team’s efforts earned the attention of the national media, as well, with coverage in The New York Times, in Newsweek and on NPR.
“This experience taught me that people of all ages have real power in the election process, even beyond showing up at the polls to vote on Election Day,” added Coon. “We’re hopeful that future leaders of ASAP can carry forward the momentum gained during the 2020 election, and that the network we created can grow to be even more beneficial to local election officials down the road.”
Weiss, DePatie and Coon are student leaders of the Election Law Society (ELS), widely known as the most active student election law group in the country. ELS is the student arm of the Election Law Program (ELP), a joint project of the National Center for State Courts and William & Mary Law School. ELP’s core mission is to provide resources to judges to ensure election disputes are resolved fairly and efficiently, an urgent mission in 2020 as election litigation exploded. Both ELP and the ASAP project are made possible through the fundraising efforts of ELP leadership and students.
Throughout the 2020 election season, Professor Green was featured in national and international platforms from CBS News and PBS to Global News Canada and C-SPAN, fielding questions about the law of elections and disputes before the courts. Her efforts and expertise underscored the Election Law Program’s preeminence in its field.
For its part, ASAP plans to continue its efforts to organize law students around the country to play a positive role in the democratic process in 2022 and beyond. With the conclusion of the 2020 election, ASAP is turning its focus to educate the public about the election process. With trust in our elections at an all-time low, ASAP aims to mobilize law students around the country to help the public understand election safeguards in their state and how ballots are counted, audited, and certified. The long-term goal is to create a 50-state resource that journalists, teachers, and lawyers can use to inspire public confidence in the election process. ASAP's goals remain first and foremost to build trust in U.S. elections and encourage every voter’s participation on Election Day. ASAP is an exciting addition to numerous student-led democracy projects already underway at William & Mary Law School like Revive My Vote (RMV), an active nonpartisan student project started in conjunction with the Williamsburg (Va.) Bar Association in 2013 to help Virginians with felony conviction histories regain the right to vote.
The wide variety of election law course offerings, student-led efforts like ASAP and RMV, and opportunities to become involved in ELP projects makes William & Mary Law School a top choice for law students across the political spectrum who are devoted to the ideals of democratic citizenship. It’s a place where students of all political stripes work together, steeped in the belief that the citizen lawyer has a pivotal role to play in maintaining American democracy.
Learn more about our Election Law Program and our student endeavors at law.wm.edu/electionlawprogram.
About William & Mary Law School
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America’s first law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.